North Las Vegas’ CERT members trained to step up during disaster

Kim Clark, who lives part time in North Las Vegas and Pawling, New York, is prepared to assist people if a disaster like the Sept. 11 attacks were to occur again.

She completed a Community Emergency Response Team course about three years ago; it teaches people skills they could use to help in the event of a major disaster.

“It was a very difficult day,” Clark said about Sept. 11, 2001. “At that point I didn’t have the training. I felt useless. That was a wakeup call. … I was far enough from where it happened (about 75 miles north), but if they had ever called on us to help, I would have loved to.”

Clark and three other North Las Vegas CERT members were called on March 9 when massive flooding hit Lemmon Valley, about 10 miles northwest of Reno. They were asked to aid Nevada Task Force 1, a Federal Emergency Management Agency urban search-and-rescue unit that assists in disasters. The volunteers received additional training for the mission.

The CERT members, along with Las Vegas and North Las Vegas emergency-management personnel, were honored May 3 with a CERT Day proclamation and a certificate for their assistance March 9.

Their duties included assembling equipment and gear for the task force workers so they could deploy to Northern Nevada quickly, said Carlito Rayos, who works in emergency management with the North Las Vegas Fire Department.

“Our job there is to help streamline it,” Clark said. “I really liked being involved in the deployment of the Nevada Task Force because I felt like I was really doing something and helping people.”

CERT members were trained how to handle deployments in two eight-hour sessions in February, Rayos said.

Nevada adopted the CERT training from the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1999. The free course is facilitated by first responders with firefighting, law enforcement or medical backgrounds. The training is about three hours a week over six to eight weeks. There also is a crash course held all day Saturday and Sunday, CERT program specialist Mary Camin said. Eighteen to 20 courses are offered a year in Southern Nevada.

Participants learn about fire suppression, search and rescue, emergency preparedness, terrorism and other elements of emergency response. Exercises include putting out a fire in an array of situations and search-and-rescue scenarios.

At the end of the training, graduates are given a backpack filled with equipment and tools they might need in emergency situations, such as duct tape, a bump hat, gloves and a first aid kit. With the graduates’ permission, they are entered into a database of disaster volunteers who may be notified in the case of a disaster or participate in drills held by emergency-response agencies. In addition to assisting with deployments, they are called on to volunteer for drills held by agencies and attend events.

Loretta “Maggie” Niedzwiecki and her husband, Walt, who are from New Hampshire, moved to Las Vegas about 10 years ago. The couple had recently retired when they decided to take the class.

“You take care of your house and then your neighbors until the good guys can get there,” Maggie said of what they learned. “They have people all over the community who can step up and take action.”

Clark said she was most surprised to learn about how to deal with earthquake situations, such as how to turn off your and your neighbors’ gas or electricity if companies are busy.

Carloyn Levering, the emergency manager for the Las Vegas Office of Emergency Management, said preparation is key when disaster strikes.

“It helps people get into the frame of mind (because) we don’t want to think about the bad things happening,” she said, adding, “I always like to thank the CERT participants because they know that things can happen, but they also take the initiative and they get up and do something about it.”

Fernandez Leray, a CERT instructor and retired deputy fire chief, said the program is essential.

“The reality is that if we really have a major incident here, first responders aren’t going to be able to able to cover it all,” Leray said. “They’re going to get overwhelmed. That’s where CERT comes into play. … People can help themselves and their neighbors, and I think that’s powerful when you know you have some control over your own destiny.”

North Las Vegas’ CERT began May 4 and is being held at Sun City Aliante for six weeks.

Contact Kailyn Brown at or 702-387-5233. Follow @kailynhype on Twitter.

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